Life + Culture

Creation Myths: Founding Fathers

Do American Christians idolize their country? Do we worship the nation's founders more than our true Creator?

Many in the United States look to the 'Christian nation' that once was, and decry our modern wandering ways. We long to return to the 'morals of our founders' two centuries ago. Some think that if we were only as pious as those who came before us, perhaps our country wouldn't be facing its current crises. 

But it turns out that the founding fathers were not at all what we would co-opt them to beJesus is absent from almost all important documents of our founding. He's not in the Declaration of Independence, not in the Constitution, not in the Federalist Papers, nor the Articles of the Confederation

Moreover, the second president of the United States, John Adams, states in the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli: "The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion."  

While it's true that some founders believed in God, many were Deist and highly influenced by Enlightenment-era thought that espoused a powerful, but distant and uninvolved God (ie. no divine Son of God). 

James Madison, the primary drafter of the US Constitution, declared that "religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise." Likewise, Thomas Paine, hero of the American Revolution stated "All national institutions of churches... appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankin."

Thomas Jefferson famously removed all the parts of the bible that relate to Jesus's miracles, including his resurrection. He stated that "the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."

Jesus makes no appearance in any of the first 20 annual presidential addresses (those of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson). Yet he is routinely dragging along on campaign trails today. We co-opt  the authority of the founders, just as we claim Christ for our causes. We cherry-pick constitutional clauses as well as biblical verses. 

So, why make such a big deal about this? Because deluding ourselves about history is a dangerous business. We have become very good and avoiding the uncomfortable truths of our past.  

Many of us already know that our nation's creation stories are myths. But we perpetuate and cling to them anyway for the validation of our own narrative. A desire to return to 'how things used to be' reveals a nostalgia for a country that was inherently injustice and unequal, not at all reflecting Christian values

It is good to respect our founders and honor them for their guidance of the nation.  But canonizing our history undermines the hard work of our heroes that strove for betterment of the country. It belittles the struggles of those that sacrificed to bring about change from the realities of that past. And it estranges us from those that continue to deal with the negative consequences of that imperfect history.
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